There is a massive disparity in enrichment expenditures between wealthy and poor families. Wealthy families are spending massive amounts of money sending their children to STEM camps, music lessons, cooking academies, sports leagues, and writing classes. Poor families are relying on schools and non-profits with tight-budgets and staffing restraints to provide similarly meaningful experiences.
When only wealthy families are able to activate the out-of-school-time hours as fertile ground for learning, social & emotional development, and growth- that threatens our commitment to equality of opportunity in this country.
The experiences we have make up the fabric of our identity.
Outside of early childhood, the most rapid brain development occurs between 7th-8th grade. This is the period where kids are building their identity, their self-concepts, and their beliefs about the future. Of course, that rapid growth doesn't happen in a vacuum, it is informed by experiences- the environment, the relationships, and opportunities for growth and challenge. And the experiences that happen outside of the classroom - sports, clubs, theater, play- are sites of extraordinary learning and self-exploration. Those opportunities expose kids to new career pathways, immerse them in meaningful and self-directed passion projects, and grant permission to tinker + build without the high stakes of the classroom. All kids should get access to opportunities that help imagine a diversity of future pathways.
Every list outlining the 'skills of the future' -from McKinsey to the World Economic Forum- emphasizes the importance of communication, relationship-building, and leadership.
Talented teachers across the country consistently embed opportunities to practice these skills. But enrichment activities are the most powerful sites of social & emotional development across age ranges. When students are outside of a formal classroom, they can activate different parts of their identities, build new relationships across social status or age, and practice leadership in different contexts.
These disparities in informal learning experiences impact future outcomes.
I had a brief interest in learning programming last year. One way they taught us was by putting all of the instructions and the answers in the code but 'commenting it out' so that I could see it on my end but when you run the code, it disappears. This, to me, is a good way of understanding how a disparity in access to enrichment opportunities impacts future outcomes.
One group of kids is getting all of these supports that come from supplementary learning - mentorship, exposure, institutional knowledge, networks. These are the invisible assets that will help them successfully navigate the future. The other group is relying on navigating the wilds of Stack Overflow without a guide or a primer.